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Oregon runs out of $500 emergency relief payments

The $500 checks are basically gone.

Oregon began winding down its $35 million emergency relief program Friday morning, tearing through the federal funds in less than three days.

The news came as countless Oregonians across the state continued to stand on line, stretching across parking lots and city blocks, hoping for relief. The state said bank branches and credit unions still had some funds to allocate on Friday — but how far that money would go was unclear.

For people waiting in person, it may simply depend on where they are in line.

The state said previously scheduled appointments would be honored through the end of the month, but no new appointments are available.

In July, Oregon lawmakers authorized up to 70,000 emergency payments to people experiencing financial hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic. The direct distribution of federal CARES Act money was also meant to help people suffering in limbo while still waiting for unemployment benefits.

That financial hardship was in plain view as tens of thousands of Oregonians braved exposure to the coronavirus for the chance to take home $500.

The lines were long at OnPoint Community Credit Union branches in the Portland area. Eva Rodriguez stood for hours in the sun outside the Sellwood branch on Thursday. Her roommate came too, holding her sweating 1-year-old baby in her arms.

“Social distancing — there’s no room for that, the lines are too long,” Rodriguez said. Dozens of people stood shoulder to shoulder by the branch’s back door, most of them Oregonians of color.

Rodriguez said she is a single mother and domestic violence survivor. She paused when asked if the risk of exposure to the coronavirus was worth it to get a payment.

“Yeah, it’s worth it. I need it. I need it. I can’t live off of, like, nothing,” she said. “I’ve fallen through the cracks.”

By 1:40 pm on Friday, at least half of OnPoint’s 31 Oregon branches had closed for the rest of the day. The credit union said individual sites were shutting their doors as soon as they depleted their allotment from the state, to avoid confusing the public.

The state said it would release more detailed information about how the funds were distributed around the state.

Meanwhile, the experience — heightened by the photos of people waiting in line — seemed to leave some lawmakers uneasy.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, blamed the Trump administration.

“These last couple days have put a spotlight on just how dire the need is all across the state,” she said in a statement. “We have to get more money to help people. The federal government has the ability to make direct stimulus payments to Americans whose lives are in jeopardy and are not doing so. I find this incredibly frustrating and disappointing.”

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kate Davidson